On page 51 of my edition of Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (Penguin, 1970) by Abraham Maslow, in the chapter entitled "Values in Education," there appears a set of footnotes that are among my favorite footnotes in the world. Admittedly, I love footnotes; I especially prefer them to end notes! (I get it; end notes are cheaper to print, but really? Here on the issue of the footnote, as a Shimerian recently said to me, is one of the values of interactive texts. I love that I can find notes -- one no longer distinguishes footnotes from end notes -- easily.)
The context of these notes, of course, is Maslow's attempt to distinguish (as he does in the case of religion as well) between educational institutions (which sometimes mitigate against education) and education per se. (If you do not know who Maslow is, here is one place to look.) So, here are the three footnotes, with a few comments. Perhaps it will drive you to read this book which appears to be about religion (and is) but is centrally about education(in all its complexities).
Footnote 1 says "Isn't is a pity that my daughter left school in her senior year just before she finished her education?"
Footnote 2 says: Professor Pangloss would have been delighted by the fact that all human knowledge happens to fall apart into exactly the same three-credit slices, like the segments of a tangerine, and that they all happen to last for exactly the same number of class hours.
Footnote 3 says "No man can call himself educated who does not know the Iliad (or constitutional law, or chemistry, or descriptive geometry, etc., etc.)." For that matter, one college I went to refused to give a degree unless the student could swim. Another one required that I take freshman composition even though I had articles in press for publication. Faculty politics are silly enough to supply us with many more examples thsan we need.
So: footnote one requires me to ask: what does he mean by this? Out of context the answer is not obvious. In context, Maslow is trying to get us to ask why we assume that leaving school means the end of education. Might it be possible that leaving school immerses you in a different form of education? This, of course, is not a question unfamilair to us a decade plus into the twenty-first century, given arguments for the educational superiority of drop outs, for example. (Though, I, personally, do not think this is quite his point.)
Footnote two, of course, points to some of the ludicrous (and serious) parts of the organization of higher education in Maslow's time (the book was written mid-twentieth century). And, yes, the state still has an interest in saying "this is what a credit hour is" and this is how long a course must meet to be a college level course. This emphasis can become silly as when some states calculate the difference between a B.A. and a B.S. by the number of classroom minutes required. On the other hand, of course, is the need for some comparability in the interest of students. Hmmmm. (If you are sure this is an exaggeration, click here for one example. Read carefully. I am not saying this is wrong; I am saying: hmmm.)
Footnote 3 is, of course, about the rigidity of requirements and the ways curricula can be misconstrued as "merely" political in the sense of his use of the phrase "faculty politics." Of course, even then, the decision to require things in curricula was not always taken for intellectual reasons; even then, money followed enrollment for various reasons, at least in some contexts. And, sometimes requirements are enforced with no flexibility emerhging from an understanding of this particular student at this particular time. And yet, we know, that our best institutions create requirements for reasons other than those implied by Maslow here (and other than those endemic in the commodification of higher learning). Here, the key is what we mean by best. And, given Maslow's desire to udnerstand humanity not through the lens of our pathology or failures (a la psychoanalysis, for example) but through persons who exemplify what is most aspirational (best) about some of us, I think this is his message to us here: we must think through what is best in all of our educational work.
Of course, these footnotes are out of context, so I do suggest a re-reading of the book. Having said that, Maslow does successfully raise the question of how we can ensure that what we know as educational institutions are truly about education, in its deepest as well as its more immediate sense. He demands his readers ask whether, in fact, our institutions impede or enhance what we might think of as "truly" educational.
A great question for Shimer -- and for all of us, once again, decades after Maslow wrote these footnotes -- and after much intervening debate about the purpose and delivery of education. Today, too, bringing questions of value to bear on how we think of education is key -- and here, value is not merely about the value proposition (though that is important) or cost versus value versus price (though those are important as well) but about that other meaning of value -- implied crucially in Maslow's version of the "value of education."
Your views? Are footnotes important? What is the value of -- and what are the values in -- education?